- The American Conservative - http://www.theamericanconservative.com -

The Wholesale Failure of American Foreign Policy

One has to wonder just how much longer the American people will silently permit the categorical failure of American foreign policy, both in theory and in practice. The evidence confirming the totality of our failure is breathtaking in scope and severity. Changes are needed to preserve U.S. national security and economic prosperity.

Recent headlines have captured the character of this failure. Fifteen years after the invasion of Afghanistan, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released finding [1]s that “corruption substantially undermined the U.S. mission in Afghanistan from the very beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom. … We conclude that failure to effectively address the problem means U.S. reconstruction programs, at best, will continue to be subverted by systemic corruption and, at worst, will fail.”

Earlier this month, a British Parliament study [2] found that the result of Western military intervention in Libya “was political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of ISIL in North Africa.”

Airstrikes and drone attacks are accidentally killing thousands [3] of civilians, aid workers [4], wedding parties [5], and now even the troops [6] of a nation against whom we are not at war. Each of these mistakes, repeated hundreds of times [7] over the past 15 years, creates more antagonism and hatred of the United States [8] than any other single event. Whatever tactical benefit [9] some of the strikes do accomplish, they are consumed in the still-worsening strategic failure the misfires cause.

Bottom line: The use of military power since 2001 has:

These continued and deepening failures kill unknown numbers of innocent civilians each year, intensify and spread the hatred many have of America [8], and incrementally weaken our national security. But these military failures have another, less obvious but more troubling cost.

Perpetual fighting dissipates the fighting strength of the armed forces. The non-stop employment of the U.S. Air Force in flying sorties, bombing runs, and strategic airlift has been orders of magnitude higher than what it was in the 15 years prior to 9/11, dramatically cutting short the lifespan [10] of each aircraft, increasing the maintenance requirements, and depleting stocks of bombs [11] and missiles.

The U.S. Army and Marine Corps have put thousands of miles of grueling use on their tanks and other armored vehicles and worn out countless weapons [12]. The refurbishing and replacement costs for these vehicles has been enormous, and—like the Air Force—the Army has severely shortened the lifespan of its armored fleet. But not only have these permanent military operations degraded the vehicles, the damage has come at the expense of conventional military training.

This might be the most alarming cost. The Army has recognized this problem and has belatedly begun to reorient some of the training time to high-end [13] conventional battle. But it will take many years of focused training to rebuild the strength the military had prior to Desert Storm or even the opening operations of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.

Entire generations of leaders and troops at every level have grown up training almost exclusively on small-scale counterinsurgency (COIN) warfare.

As one who has fought in both high-end armored warfare and small-scale COIN, I can tell you that creating effective battle units for conventional war is far, far more difficult and time consuming.

Likewise, the Air Force has not fought against a modern adversary with fleets of effective fighter jets, bombers, and potent air-defense capabilities. Such operations are orders of magnitude more difficult than attacking insurgents on the ground who pose no threat to aircraft.

It is critical to understand that no insurgency or terror group represents an existential threat to viability of the United States. Failure in a conventional battle to a major power, however, can cripple the nation.

It is discouraging to see the administration, Congress, and the Department of Defense fully tethered to the perpetual application of military power against small-scale threats. Terrorism definitely represents a threat to U.S. interests, and we must defend against it. But the obsession with using major military assets on these relatively small-scale threats has not only failed to stem the threat, it has in part been responsible for expanding it. Meanwhile, the unhealthy focus on the small-scale has weakened—and continues to weaken—our ability to respond to the truly existential threats.

If the incoming administration does not recognize this deterioration of our military power and take steps to reverse it, our weakness may one day be exposed in the form of losing a major military engagement that we should have won easily. The stakes couldn’t be higher. A change in foreign policy is critically needed. We will either change by choice or we will change in the smoldering aftermath of catastrophic military failure. I pray it is the former.

Daniel L. Davis is a foreign-policy fellow and military expert at Defense Priorities. He retired from the U.S. Army as a lieutenant colonel after 21 years of active service. He was deployed into combat zones four times in his career, beginning with Operation Desert Storm in 1991, and also to Iraq in 2009 and Afghanistan twice (2005, 2011). 

35 Comments (Open | Close)

35 Comments To "The Wholesale Failure of American Foreign Policy"

#1 Comment By EliteCommInc. On September 29, 2016 @ 12:46 am

Excuse me while I hop my

“It wasn’t me.” Afghanistan and Iraq pedastal to say,

“Told ya so.” we shouldn’t be doing what we are doing led around like service dogs into everyone else’s mess.

But if we are going to do it. We should take the reigns, declare everyone not in line with our view as suspect and use our massive force to settle matters on our terms and be done.

Appreciated this article

#2 Comment By RMThoughts On September 29, 2016 @ 9:53 am

Following the last Syrian truce, the US Defense Department effectively rebelled against the president’s authority when it said it may or we may not comply with the ceasefire, says former MI6 agent officier Alastair Crooke.

The United States does not have a UN or Congressional mandate for intervening in the Syria war. The US military have rebelled against their own government, they are nothing but a stateless armed mercenaries.

Out of idle curiosity, “Who is controlling these forces?” “Who are those fighting illegally on Syrian territory under the US flag?”

We all know that Putin is an intelligence officer and that he never says anything accidentally. Putin had his foreign service affirm that in light of the US military sabatoge of the cease fire agreement, Obama has lost control of the US military for the whole world to hear.

Lavrov repeating this direct statement that the US milady forces are not controlled by the US government. “Obama supported the cooperation between our countries. Looks like the US military doesn’t listen to their President”.

Using the UN platform, he openly stated that SOMEONE can attack and kill anybody in the world, under the US flag and the US president can do nothing about this.

Russia’s a message was that a group of people has control over the US military and uses them as they please. It means that the US is not even a regional power… It means that the US is like Somali ten years ago. We know who are those people who control the US military; which cannot be said about the “schizophrenic” world community, the incurable gang members.

#3 Comment By J Harlan On September 29, 2016 @ 12:24 pm

“creating effective battle units for conventional war is far, far more difficult and time consuming.”

100% correct which reminds me of the nonsense spread by the coindinistas that COIN “was the graduate level of war”. For a while it helped the narrative that Petraeus was very clever and would save the day but of course the strategy was wrong which made the tactics irrelevant.

#4 Comment By The Wet One On September 29, 2016 @ 2:46 pm

First,

“It is critical to understand that no insurgency or terror group represents an existential threat to viability of the United States.”

Sadly, too few Americans either understand or believe this to be true. Which is a major handicap in them understanding your article.

Second, well, all of the issues that you detail are good for business (the arms and military business). As such, well, money talks and talks over reason.

Good luck with that!

#5 Comment By c matt On September 29, 2016 @ 3:43 pm

The US populace will permit it until they feel it up close and personal.

#6 Comment By Neal On September 29, 2016 @ 5:48 pm

At this stage, the last thing I care about is the strength of the military and the cost of broken down equipment. Bring on that smoldering military failure. They deserve it.

#7 Comment By quod erat etc. On September 29, 2016 @ 5:58 pm

“Earlier this month, a British Parliament study found that the result of Western military intervention in Libya “was political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of ISIL in North Africa.” “

That’s impossible. Hillary has clearly said that her Libyan intervention was a great example of her “smart power” doctrine. Therefore it must be so. Tell the British Parliament to keep its absurd studies to itself. At least until after the election.

#8 Comment By Rossbach On September 29, 2016 @ 6:02 pm

“Terrorism definitely represents a threat to U.S. interests, and we must defend against it.”

The principal terrorist threat to the U.S. is the from the imperial backwash created by these failed and useless conflicts. Stuffing the U.S. full of “refugees” from countries that we have wrecked is a recipe for national suicide.

#9 Comment By KY Headhunter On September 29, 2016 @ 7:01 pm

“the obsession with using major military assets on these relatively small-scale threats has not only failed to stem the threat, it has in part been responsible for expanding it”

Right on the money.

We actually made the threat worse. Far worse. Even if we completely pull out now – which we should do – we’ll be dealing with blowback in the form of long-burning hatred and terror attacks for many years to come. The idiots who recommended this policy ought to be hounded out of government and public life.

#10 Comment By Colorado Jack On September 29, 2016 @ 7:51 pm

Every word Colonel Davis has written is true. But the colonial wars of the Empire matter hardly at all to the citizens of the metropole.

#11 Comment By J Harlan On September 29, 2016 @ 9:05 pm

““It is critical to understand that no insurgency or terror group represents an existential threat to viability of the United States.”

True but you don’t get paid to shoot machine guns or jump out of airplanes in the fight against the next pandemic or searching for a way to deflect large meteors.

The GWOT (like the war on drugs) provides a lot of people a lot of money and interesting jobs. That’s the strategy. That’s why neither is ending in the next generation.

#12 Comment By RichardD On September 30, 2016 @ 1:43 am

The endless wars that the US and it’s partners in crime start are Hegelian problem reaction solution theater. The terrorists are state actor sock puppets . Funded, armed and provided political support as proxies for their state actor controllers to advance their regime change and hegemony goals through irregular warfare. The public is lied to by the politicians paying for and directing these needless tragedies. Nowhere has this been made more clear than Syria. Where all of the crime by the NATO/Israel/GCC axis powers has been laid bare for the world to see. It’s an embarrassment as an American watching our politicians and diplomats spew their lies, nonsense and stupidity about an unnecessary war that they obviously started and are deliberately perpetuating.

#13 Comment By Tabasco Jack On September 30, 2016 @ 2:48 am

Isn’t it time for someone to jump up on a table in a beer cellar, fire a revolver into the ceiling and yell, “This is a Putsch!”

#14 Comment By Chris Cosmos On September 30, 2016 @ 8:46 am

The contemporary mission of the US armed forces is to make military contractors rich. As an addendum the foreign policy elite use the military to scare the world into political alignment with the US. How did this happen? The American people flat out don’t care and therefore the media just goes along with the corrupt government on this endless gravy train. At no time has it been more true that “war is a racket” as Gen. Smedley Butler noted long ago. In my view, the National Security State is our largest unit of organized crime.

#15 Comment By Susana On September 30, 2016 @ 11:34 am

This is a genuine question, not a snarky comment. Do you think we may be called upon to fight a conventional war in the next, say, 20 years, and if so, against whom? Is NATO also focusing on small scale enemies or do their troops train differently? I know very little about this topic and am interested. I am a Burkean conservative and, as such, I hope to keep a realistic view on what nations can and should do.

#16 Comment By E. A. Costa On September 30, 2016 @ 12:51 pm

Davis, poor fellow, talks of the “wholesale failure” of American foriegn policy. Actually it has been a wholesale success for the Neo-Cons, the military industrial complex, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and others, no? Simply one example–if Davis has not figured out that the US and coalition’s Iraq War aimed to leave Iraq in chaos and effectively destroyed, he has not taken his military service blinders off. Thank you, sir, for your service to the one percent.

#17 Comment By Eileen Kuch On September 30, 2016 @ 4:11 pm

The US military, in sabotaging the Syrian ceasefire by attacking/killing Syrian soldiers, defied the authority of the POTUS who – in times of war – is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. In fact, such an act is described as a coup against the President. What the military’s done is to make the President (in this case, Barack Obama) too weak to put the military in its place.
Truth is, the US Military is a lapdog of the Zionist Entity of Israel, as well as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. Its leadership hates Russia the most, since it was Russia’s military who saved the Syrian govt of Bashar al-Assad from total destruction and the country itself from Jihadist control.
Daniel L. Davis is right on the mark in his description of the wholesale failure of US foreign policy .. and the govts of both G. W. Bush and B. H. Obama were (are) the architects of this failure.

#18 Comment By spite On September 30, 2016 @ 10:03 pm

“This is a genuine question, not a snarky comment. Do you think we may be called upon to fight a conventional war in the next, say, 20 years”

I assure you that my answer is not snarky at all, I think there will be a conventional war in the next 2 years not the next 20 years. Hillary has made is very clear that she openly despises Putin and the media is beating the war drums hard, I really see a war happening. I have already seen chatter in the different geopolitical forums how nuclear weapons are not so important now (serious) and that a non nuclear war with Russia and/or China is feasible.

#19 Comment By Raul duke On September 30, 2016 @ 10:55 pm

If we want to be the worlds policeman we need to increase taxes 25% across the board and reinstate the draft.

#20 Comment By TG On October 1, 2016 @ 9:24 am

Ah, but Hillary Clinton is ‘qualified’ to be president, and Donald Trump is ‘unqualified.’ Why? Because Clinton has been deemed ‘qualified’ by the New York Times, and she has been engaged with echo-chamber think tanks for decades that keep telling her how great she is, and she has been mucking about in government for over two decades, and anyhow she’s a woman. So even though Trump says a lot of sensible things, and has a track record of (mostly) succeeding with large complex projects in a very competitive business environment (and even when he fails he knows how to cut his losses), and he appears to care more about the national interest than selling out for personal gain, obviously we can’t vote for him, because racism.

#21 Comment By Dan On October 1, 2016 @ 9:32 am

Susanna

There are possible conventional wars but they are very unlikely.

Any intervention in Latin America, Africa or Pacific Islands in response (presumably in response to a friendly government being overthrown etc) US power is overwhelming and the conventional phase would be a couple of days, you then of course potentially have counter-insurgency.

In Europe post Cold War all of the Russian troops pulled out of their allies, then back further as the Soviet Union came apart, Most US troops pulled out, most US forces in remaining are support and logistics to facilitate US in Mid East and Africa as well as keep options open in Europe. Most of Europe post Cold War heavily disarmed, they all abolished conscription and reduced numbers and all contributed to operations in Afghanistan, so again have not been training for conventional war with Russia recently.

A true conventional war, with Russia is either US and NATO fully committing to support Georgia and Ukraine regaining the bits of territory Russia has taken, or Russia somehow launching an unprovoked mass conventional strike on Warsaw. Both are simply unbelievable at present. The first would assume German Ground troops fighting east of Kiev, that’s 1942 territory!

The worry is could Putin find an excuse to take 10 square miles and a couple of villages of Latvia and dare us to do anything about it. Do nothing and what is the point of NATO, launch full scale response and you have WWIII.

In the East, the potential conventional war is North Korea moves South or China takes Taiwan. North Korea is so unpredictable that it is unlikely but possible, South Korea have good armed forces of their own and even without US support would win but would be devastated by a full scale conflict. Seoul is only 20 miles or so from the border.

China takes Taiwan seems unlikely until China is confident it can do it without much risk which is probably still a couple of decades away, Taiwan has reduced spending on its own military and is gradually accepting it is not worth spending in an arms race with a neighbour 100 times bigger.

#22 Comment By Dan Squires On October 1, 2016 @ 2:22 pm

The article points out all of the things wrong in the locations we are involved in. What it doesn’t
is what our Foreign Policy should be.
I would like to hear some suggestions.

#23 Comment By Noreastern On October 1, 2016 @ 5:36 pm

Obama turned a significant corner when he toned down Bush’s US primacy ambitions. It will be up to Hillary to continue this evolution of foreign policy by the US. The bottom line is that this country should never get involved in countries where the US does not have clearly defined strategic interest. Short of preventing such things as the massive genocide that occurred in Rwanda of course.

#24 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 1, 2016 @ 9:40 pm

“I am a Burkean conservative and, as such, I hope to keep a realistic view on what nations can and should do.”

I don’t think there’s any est to extricate ourselves unless the whole thing just fades. If it doesn’t we have created a scenario in my view in which some level of ground force will be inevitable.

#25 Comment By Karl R Kaiser On October 1, 2016 @ 10:36 pm

It’s only a failure if you believe the government’s STATED strategic purposes.

But if the purpose of our foreign policy is to enrich the military industry, bankers, oil barons, and opium importers, to empower Israel, and to frighten Americans into accepting a paramilitary surveillance state, then voila, American foreign policy is an unqualified success.

#26 Comment By Aidar On October 2, 2016 @ 12:54 am

Such wise article.

#27 Comment By Winston On October 2, 2016 @ 2:28 am

Things have gotten far worse, see:

[14]
US Special Forces sabotage White House policy gone disastrously wrong with covert ops in Syria

[15]
How the US Armed-up Syrian Jihadists

[16]
Todenhöfer: Interview With Al-Nusra Commander “The Americans stand on our side”

#28 Comment By Douglas K. On October 2, 2016 @ 10:34 am

I echo other comments here. Current policy is a failure only if you’re concerned about American lives, civil liberties, security, prestige, international reputation, military preparedness … stuff like that. You know, the metrics of success that normal people use.

But if the actual goal is to maintain permanent low-level foreign and domestic threats to justify continued massive military expenditures and the perpetual expansion of the security state, then it’s all working perfectly. The “war on terror” is like the “war on drugs” in that the point is to fight it forever, not to win. After all, the money is in the fighting. “Victory” — perpetually undefined and therefore unachievable — would end the gravy train.

#29 Comment By Future Hostilities Guaranteed On October 2, 2016 @ 4:48 pm

“the “wholesale failure” of American foriegn policy. Actually it has been a wholesale success for the Neo-Cons, the military industrial complex, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and others, no?”

So how come we call it “American foreign policy”?

Shouldn’t it be called the “foreign customer service unit” instead?

“Yessir Mr. Netanyahu, we’ll get right on that for you – shouldn’t be too many American casualties. You still need that cash aid? No problem, sir! We can always spare cash for Israel, even when Americans are losing their homes, jobs, and life-savings! Naturally, there will be no charge for the service, sir! Don’t mention it! A pleasure! Please be sure to let us know if there’s anything else you need, and we look forward to your next visit!”

#30 Comment By john On October 2, 2016 @ 8:35 pm

well considering that military spending is at Cold War levels in the absence of anything like Cold War threat levels I would say the Pentagon is doing pretty well. At what point will Americans travel abroad, see the smooth highways the good infrastructure and realize they have been duped? Like Soviets of old in American supermarkets.

#31 Comment By SukieTawdry On October 3, 2016 @ 8:23 am

Yes, our president agrees that neither ISIS nor al qaeda, nor the rest of the (Islamic, my word, not his) terrorist crowd, nor their sponsors Russia, Syria and Iran are existential threats to the viability of the US. Russia may be a major military power, but the president assures us Putin is on the wrong side of history. Iran, of course, has been contained by Obama’s comprehensive nuclear deal. And once Assad, with Putin’s assistance, regains control of Syria, he will have such an internal mess on his hands to deal with, he will be hard pressed indeed to make any mischief beyond his borders.

So why bother to even attempt to keep any of them in check? Let the chips fall where they may in the ME. After all, it’s more Europe’s and Israel’s problem, right? We, regardless of whatever mayhem occurs over there, will remain standing whole and intact to pick up any remaining pieces, or not, as we see fit.

Iraq was never a regional threat and it’s 10-year war with Iran prevented the Mullahs from making trouble elsewhere. Afghanistan didn’t start harboring terrorists until after we disposed of its functioning government. The deterioration of our military power and readiness has nothing to do with our spending the “peace dividend” elsewhere once history ended nor with weak-sister administrations who in essence despise(d) the military. It matters not that we have a president whose worldview is wholly unsupported by realities on the ground.

#32 Comment By Anarcissie On October 3, 2016 @ 6:02 pm

The US leadership/elite/ruling class decided that it had to rule the world, to make the world safe for itself and its interests, back during World War 2, and created a system to do that. It is now generally referred to as ’empire’. All arrangements eventually come to an end, and we are now coming to the end of this particular arrangement. It might be objectively possible for our leaders to try to work up a new arrangement, but my guess is that in their sentimental attachment to power and glory, they will just keep doing the same things until some catastrophe brings the sad game to an end. The present election seems to bear out this pessimistic view.

#33 Comment By PAXNOW On October 6, 2016 @ 3:29 pm

Anyone with half a brain knew that Iraq was not a threat. That is anyone but Israel and its extremely powerful cheerleaders. Patrick Buchanan in his article in the AC nailed this coffin shut with his 2003 article “Whose war?” We must formally divorce ourselves from Israel and treat it like any other country. This will taken Buchanan type courage. The bottom line will be less Americans put in harm’s way to fight wars not in the interest of the U.S.(American mothers did not raise their children as battle field fodder for this theocracy) I want to ask Trump and Clinton – what would you have done in 1967 on learning that the Israelis were viciously attacking the USS Liberty. We know what Johnson did. This must be our litmus test for the Commander in Chief.

#34 Comment By Sandra Embry On October 6, 2016 @ 8:28 pm

Future Hostilities Guaranteed has it spot on! I think the U.S. military is not weak enough. I think what is going on in these countries is exactly what was planned. It is what is planned for Syria as well. This makes me sick! I am so, so sorry for Syria as she has to defend herself against this bully tyrant who wants to milk the citizens of all the nations in the world. That is the U.S. regime for you – empire building since 1861.

#35 Comment By Jim Houghton On October 6, 2016 @ 9:43 pm

“One has to wonder just how much longer the American people will silently permit the categorical failure of American foreign policy, both in theory and in practice.”

As long as American foreign policy continues to be conducted at gunpoint, and as long as the gun in question (metaphorical, but very real gun) creates some of the biggest transfers of wealth many states receive in the form of DoD money to contractors — I see no end in sight.

American foreign policy makes no #$#%@@!! sense…until you follow the money.